N.B. SOME READERS MAY THINK THAT, FOR ALL MY RESTRAINT, I HAVE GIVEN TOO MUCH AWAY IN THIS REVIEW.
This is the superb sequel to the author's "Restoration" (see my review), and Sir Robert Merivel continues with his story after an interval of seventeen years. It is not necessary to have read the earlier book; but the references to the events in it will of course be richer in meaning to those who have read it. Notable in particular are the occasions when the spirit of the late John Pearce, Merivel's Quaker friend and guide in the first volume, appears to him when he is in the many dilemmas in which this book abounds.
It is now 1683, and Merivel is now an elderly though still sensual and lusty man of 58, and devoted to his daughter Margaret. When she accepts an invitation to spend two months with a friend in Cornwall, Merivel thought he would fill the void she left by visiting France for the first time in his life. With a letter of commendation to Louis XIV from King Charles II, he sets out on his voyage to Versailles. The account of his journey there is entertaining; but when he arrives in Versailles, he has to wait, in the most squalid conditions, for many days for an audience with Louis.
While waiting, he falls in love with Louise de Flamanville, the unhappy wife of an officer; he gives up waiting for the Sun King and goes with her to Paris. She tells him she plans to leave her husband and go to live with her father in Switzerland, and Merivel promises to join her there is due course. Meanwhile her husband discovers the affaire, and Merivel has to leave France in a hurry and to return to England (bringing with him a bear he has saved from death by buying him. There is a lot in the book about Merivel's rapport with animals. Unlike Descartes, he is sure that animals have a soul and can reason, and at one stage he works on a treatise that would show how animals communicate with humans.)
Back in England he finds his beloved daughter gravely ill with typhus. The illness lasts for weeks in a bitter winter. King Charles turns up and touches Margaret for the King's Evil. The King stays several days. It seems very unlikely, but in this novel the intimacy between Merivel and the King, right up to the latter's deathbed, is very close indeed. The King takes to Margaret, and entices her to the Court to attend on the King's mistress, the Duchess of Portsmouth; so with a heavy and suspicious heart, Merivel loses her again, and is lonely again; so this is the time to join Louise in Switzerland.
I must not reveal the dramatic events that take place in Switzerland, nor the psychological problems - so honestly set out - that beset Merivel there.
He is summoned back to England by the wish of the fatally sick Charles II, and there follow the graphic scenes surrounding the King's last illness and death.
Again I must not describe the devastating chapters which follow. After that the book ends movingly on a note of philosophic stoicism and a kind of serenity. And that is followed by an elegiac epilogue that put me in mind of Mistress Quickly's account of the death of Falstaff.
All the characters in the book come most vividly to life. I am particularly fond of Will Gates, Merivel's ancient and faithful manservant; of Louise's devoted father; and of course of Merivel himself in all his honest complexity. In Merivel's own words, he was trying "as Montaigne says we must - to explore my own nature... I am a man of impulsive appetites and haunted by the terrifying propsect that life will pay me no attention. But I am also very melancholy and prone to indulgent weeping - particularly at my own mistakes. And so it amused me to see how these different sides of myself formed themselves into a Story." (p.246).
The style of the book, too, is quite delightful, very easy to read while retaining a hint of 17th century prose (including the Capitalization of certain Words). It is generously rich in incidents (some of them touching, some funny), cultural allusions, and reflections on all manner of subjects. The plot of this novel, however, does not have quite the shape of its predecessor: here we have, as in life itself, one event following another without there being, as far as I can see, any over-arching plan in the mind of the author. It makes me think of the first book as being structurally slightly, but only very slightly, superior to its sequel.
on 8 October 2013
Rose Tremain is one of the few writers on my auto-buy list, and one I will pay full price for. I loved Restoration, which was the first of hers I ever read, and so when I saw she had written a sequel, I couldn't wait.
Merivel is an endearing character who's heart, as my gran would say, is in the right place. He's selfish, sometimes thoughtless, lascivious, greedy, and he's always putting off until tomorrow what he should do today. He hates hurting people, but ends up hurting them a lot because he's scared to tell them the truth. He does things, not because he wants to but because he leaves himself no option. He's also loyal, loving, a physician who doesn't kill as often as the others did at the time, acutely aware of his own shortcomings, and thoroughly likeable. It's a rare thing, in my view, to get such a well-rounded character you can like warts and all, but Merivel is one, and Rose Tremain is a bit of a genius for creating him and pulling it off.
This is a book filled with humour and compassion. It reeks (quite often literally) of the England and France and Switzerland even, of the time. The court at St James's is portrayed not as a sumptuous, enviable place, but as a decadent, debauched and rather smelly one. The contrasts between rich and poor, the healthy and the ailing, and more than anything in this book, the terrible fate that awaits the old (relatively old, for us) regardless of their wealthy, are themes which run right through this novel. Serious issues, but this still remains a romp, peripatetic as the first book, and every bit as enjoyable.
Of the ending, I'm not going to comment but it would spoil it. Suffice to say, that it was inevitable, brave and fitting. I loved this book, and it made me want to go back and read Restoration, and to work my way back through my very well-thumbed collection of Tremain's. Read it, read it, read it.
on 5 November 2012
I was sorry when this book came to an end, as I had so enjoyed opening up its pages and travelling with Merivel on his quest to find fresh stimulation in life. With the forthcoming empty-nest threatening an onset of melancholia, Merivel goes to Versailles with an introduction from the King. There, we get an intriguing glimpse into the sycophantic torments of Louis XIV's would-be hangers-on. But it is Madamme de Flamanville, (coldly ignored by her gay Cornel of the Swiss Guards husband) who takes a strong fancy to Merivel, and invites him to Paris and then to her father's chateau in Switzerland. Merivel's funny, rompish adventures are suffused with accounts of his 'uncontainable appetites', with the grumblings of his digestive system, the casual sexual encounters, devoted love for his daughter, and for Will his loyal servant. He is a man of feelings and instinctive actions. Pity for a condemned caged bear leads him to have it rescued and brought back to Bidnold Manor.
Nursing his very ill daughter sobers him, as does performing surgery for cancer on an old lover. In fact memory plays a big part, as he discoveres and peruses his once-lost memoir, and although his Quaker friend and mentor John Pearce is no longer alive, Merivel 'consults' him at pertinent stages of his various dilemmas. Even his special friendship with Charles II becomes problematic, when he can't be sure that the King doesn't have designs upon his young daughter Margaret.
At the Swiss chateau, while Louise de Flamanville works on her botanical experiments, Merivel reads in her father's substantial library. His ponderings lead him to decide to do research on the Souls of Animals. He hopes that this treatise will teach him "not only about birds or bears and their place in the world, but also about my own place and my own soul..." In Merivel, Rose Tremain has combined an inimitable vision of the human condition with great storytelling. Still, the ending surprised me.
on 29 October 2012
The well known grumble of the sequel being the bane of the literary world has truly seen its day. Rose Tremain's exciting new work, Merivel, A Man of His Time follows the eponymous Sir Robert, physician to the spaniels of King Charles II, returns enamoured of his exploits in Restoration, Tremain's earlier 1989 work.
Following the restoration of his estates at Bidnold, Norfolk, and his position beside the King, Merivel's adventures are advanced sixteen years, yet the 58 year old continues to enjoy the typical pursuits of youth, debauchery and gluttony abundance, on his road to self-discovery. Slowly however, the reader can begin to see a maturation in his ebullient and self-deceiving character. He progresses well with his daughter, cementing their relationship as she grows, where he must eventually allow her to leave Norfolk for the charm of Stuart Whitehall. The same ripening can be seen in his attitude towards the King, as he makes his pride known as the royal nears the stage of his reign Merivel never thought would come.
The reader sees the splendour of Versailles, Paris, and Neuchatel in Switzerland, as well as the familiar terrains of Norfolk and early-modern London, as Sir Robert seeks fulfilment beyond his body and purse. And, in the pursuit of knowledge and the satiation of his soul's thirst, he is (mostly) faithful to his new loves - a treatise on the souls of animals, to whom he has always felt a natural affinity, and the beautiful and nourishing Swiss botanist, Louise de Flamanville, nee de Saint Maurice Neuchatel.
As always with Tremain, her new book is masterfully written. Not least, many unexpected and thrilling events take place, including an early version of `playing the Beast' on the move (as Sir Robert succumbs to his desire while in a carriage across France), a duel in the garden of a Swiss chateau, and the rescue of a small spaniel from a rather large bear named Clarendon. Also, the exploration of feelings the reader would otherwise merely guess at are squarely planted on the page in startling clarity and pathos. Joining Merivel again has been a privilege, but then, reading the novels of Rose Tremain has always been exactly that. Her words are crisp, her notions are fresh, and the delicate touch she shows her characters is both poignant and cathartic. A triumph.
on 23 October 2012
It's grand to be back with Merivel again. He's matured, of course; he hasn't the same breathtaking exuberance about his follies as he had twenty or so years ago when he first appeared in Restoration, but this present tale of an older Merivel is still compelling as we watch him stumble through a world that he continues scarcely seems to comprehend in search of a self-knowledge whose achievement seems even further removed from his likely ken. There's a touch of sadness and of bathos, a sense of an ending, to coin a phrase, in this book: Merivel seems to be going, if he is going at all, away from us rather than coming towards us and in that we are left feeling as though we have tried to pick up a lump of sand only for it to run through our fingers.
Yet Merivel's adventures in this grand retreat are as inventive as ever and he writes (for we can be forgiven for thinking that Merivel himself wrote this text with its liberal Sprinkling of Seventeeth Century initial Captitals) with great sensitivity, correctness (even with the Pepperpot capitals)and imaginative beauty. Of course, though, it is Rose Tremain who is writing this and she thus contrives a creative tension between herself and her creation, mirrored perhaps by Merivel's rescue in the book of an incarcerated bear, which nevertheless remains incarcerated and helpless for some time. Mimicking the bear Merivel thus wriggles and sighs in the cage created by his author, misunderstood and seeking freedom but for a purpose he can't quite gather.
All the same Merivel earns himself (and his author) five stars.
on 13 September 2013
I couldn't quite believe my eyes when I saw that there was a sequel to Restoration and so when I did, I downloaded it pronto. I remember reading Restoration many years ago and so just like Robert Merivel, my life has moved on as much as his had. We find the funny and flawed Merivel at his home Bidnold house with his beloved daughter Margaret.
This was a real page-turner for me. Seeing Merivel again was like revisiting and old friend. He was up to his tricks; getting into impossible situations, meeting strange people and romping his way through the last days of King Charles II. I liked the fact that Tremain made reference to the first novel, and that old characters such as Pearce was able to make an appearance. I was genuinely gripped and I needed to know what would happen at the end, and was satisfied by the ending.
I like the fact that Merivel is flawed, but ultimately, he appreciates the people who love him. But if Merivel is flawed, then some of the people he meets are more so. There are also some very funny moments, the badger tabards had me in fits. I liked that Tremain had a touch of the 17th style, such as capitalising the nouns, as well as the vernacular. A great novel and worth downloading, even if you haven't read Restoration.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 23 September 2012
Robert Merivel is a marvellous creation, and his exploits in this book are every bit as moving and hilarious as they were in 'Restoration'. 'Merivel' is funny and devastating all at once, and glows with the warmth of it's soppy, silly, joyful and heart-breaking protagonist. I absolutely adored it. Wonderful, life-affirming stuff.
Having absolutely loved Restoration which I consider among the best of the Rose Tremain books I have read, I was keen to read this sequel and on the whole was not disappointed. Merivel still enjoys the friendship and affection of the King, Charles II, and Merivel's daughter Margaret is now grown up and beginning to live her own life so he sets off to foreign places for new experiences, including the court of Louis XIV the Sun King, and Switzerland, until he is called back to England.
The first-person narrative reveals a flawed but honest character who recognises full well his shortcomings but cannot resist the temptations that life puts in his way. Some reviewers have found him in this sequel to be an unattractive anti-hero, but his waywardness and weaknesses only endeared him to me.
The reason I am not giving it five stars is that I felt the ending did not ring true. I won't go into further detail for risk of spoiling the outcome for new readers, but I thought there was some rather out-of-character behaviour and unlikely circumstances. But it did not spoil my overall enjoyment of the novel.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 7 December 2012
This is a great novel,a superb follow up to "Restoration". Ms Tremain is up there with Hilary Mantel in her evocation of character and period, and the quality of her writing is captivating. Humour, delight and tragedy are captured in this very special story. Thank you, Ms Tremain , for another great treat. Your writing enriches my life.
on 8 September 2013
I loved this book. I read it originally from the library when it was first published and was delighted when it came out in paperback. My copy arrived in early Auust and I put it away to read again on holiday at the end of August. I could barely contain myself.
Readng it again was like meeting up with an old,dear friend. Merivel is wonderful,
full of compassion for his fellow man and woman and especially tender towards animals.
I started to read it again on the TGV train going down through France and laughed outloud at some of his antics. At other times I felt tears come to my eyes at examples of his care and affection for Clarendon and his concern for the whipped Shire horse of Squire Sands.
His love for his daughter and his longtime affection for Rosie shine from the page and the end of the story in the laundry was almost too much too bear.
Merivel, you are one of my favourite characters and will remain with me for a long time.